Revelations of past criminal behavior and complaints about the leadership of the pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church have erupted into turmoil within the congregation and produced a couple of lawsuits.
Attendance is down, dozens of members have left and others are frustrated that the church's constitution is being ignored, said Helen L. Carter, who attended the church for more than 20 years until she was banned last year.
The Rev. Tyrell O. Brown, installed as the Midlothian Turnpike church's pastor 14 months ago, could not be reached for comment.
"Some people have been there over 50 years, and they said they had never experienced such confusion," Carter said. "It's pitiful. It's nothing we are used to. He won't allow church meetings!"
Carter, who served on a search committee for a new pastor in 2005, said problems began after she questioned whether a criminal background check had been done for Brown.
Carter said they were told Brown's report was clean. It wasn't.
In 1991, a New Brunswick, N.J., court convicted Brown of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute in a school zone, records show. He was sentenced to four years of probation under several conditions, including a drug and alcohol dependency evaluation and 100 hours of community service.
Tensions between Carter and Brown and his supporters continued to build. Carter said she was told by a deacon not to attend the church's 100th homecoming last September or she would be charged with trespassing.
That Sunday, Carter stood in the street talking to friends. She never entered the church. The next day, police arrested Carter for trespassing. The charge was later dropped.
Carter filed a civil suit against George Coles, the former head of the church's deacon board, who had taken out the warrant for her arrest. The suit claims that Coles falsely accused her of trespassing at the church. The case is scheduled to be heard Aug. 9 in General District Court.
Carter said she was thrown out of church in violation of the church constitution and bylaws, which read, in part: "the membership reserves the exclusive right to determine who shall be members of this church and the conditions of such membership."
But there was never a vote to ban her, Carter said.
Lucille Baskerville, a church member, confirmed there was no vote and said Brown "won't follow protocol. He just wants to do what he wants."
"I'm one of the people advocating, trying to get something done," Baskerville said. "I am the major demon in his eyes, my husband and I."
Her husband, James Baskerville, also filed a lawsuit against Brown alleging assault. On the advice of his attorney, Baskerville asked the court to dismiss the suit.
Contact Robin Farmer at (804) 649-6312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.